The following statement was released by the comrades of the Courant Communiste Revolutionnaire (CCR, Revolutionary Communist Current), the sister organization of Left Voice that publishes Révolution Permanente. It calls on French workers to vote for the lists of another revolutionary Trotskyist party, Lutte Ouvrière (LO), in the first round of the upcoming elections for regional and departmental councils in the country. In calling for this vote, the CCR is continuing the long, rich history of revolutionary Marxists participating in the arena of capitalist elections — either by running their own candidates or supporting others. It is a tactic that offers a way to intervene with the working class on terrain that is familiar to its members — without sowing illusions that elections are the road to eliminating exploitation, but engaging in debates and exposing the fraud of bourgeois democracy.
The CCR’s endorsement of LO’s lists also speaks to a principle that has long guided revolutionaries: class independence. Although the CCR has disagreements with LO on a number of political issues, some of which are spelled out below, the CCR recognizes LO’s principled stance to remain on the side of the working class, to reject deals and alliances with the class enemy, and to refuse to become the implementers of the bourgeoisie’s plans. It is a lesson and a reminder for comrades young and old. — Scott Cooper
A Reactionary Context, Marked by Crisis
The context of the 2021 French regional elections is one in which the Right and the extreme Right occupy nearly all the political and media space. There are calls for the murder of “leftists” by Papacito on YouTube,1Translator’s note: The far-right “influencer” who goes by the name “Papacito” broadcast a 20-minute staged shooting of “leftists” on his YouTube channel on June 6. The video, titled “Is leftism bulletproof?,” was not taken down for 24 hours. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a candidate for the French presidency, characterized it as a “call to murder.” demonstrations by police officers, military tribunals, and so on. These elements are part of the broader current trend that is marked by a security, Islamophobic, and xenophobic offensive led by the extreme Right, the Right, and the government, but also by part of the institutional Left.
This may seem like the predominant feature of the current political situation, given the omnipresence of these issues in the media and politics generally, but the real picture is more uneven, and it remains highly reflective of the health, economic, and social crisis that has in no way been resolved. Despite the government script that “happy days” have returned, the “exit from the crisis” could indeed prove quite perilous given that 3 million people in France are still partially unemployed.
For the time being, the significant social sluggishness, fueled by the policies of the trade union leaderships, also remains a marker of the situation. Yet the gradual lifting of health restrictions and, at the same time, the full opening of the economy could lead to the return of social protest, which has been under wraps since the mobilizations against the Global Security Law. This is what the most conscious sectors of the bourgeoisie fear, and why they warn of a potential social explosion as the reform plan begins to be put back on the table.
Against the backdrop of this reactionary situation, in which the dynamics of next year’s presidential elections are already in full play, the situation thus remains uncertain, with significant social and political instability.
Historic Level of Abstention: Growing Discredit of Institutions and a Punishment Vote against the Political Class
The elections of June 20 and 27 for regional and departmental councillors will be held in 15 regions (including Guadeloupe and Réunion). In this two-round election, voters will elect councilors for six-year terms.
The 2021 regional elections will be no exception to what has become the rule for these intermediate elections (i.e., between presidential elections): abstentions could reach higher levels than their already-increasing trend, higher even than last time. Frédéric Dabi, director-general of the polling firm Ifop, told France Tv that the abstention “will be quite massive,” with projections of “about 60 percent abstaining … an absolute record for a regional election.” These regional elections could thus break the abstention record for all types of elections in the Fifth Republic.2Translator’s note: The “Fifth Republic” is the current permutation of France’s republican system of government, established in late 1958 under a new national constitution.
The structural rise in abstentions reflects the popular discrediting of the traditional political parties — of which Macronism is now a part — as well as the loss of confidence in institutions. It comes across as political punishment from voters.
The Institutional “Left” Is Primarily Responsible for Austerity … and the Rise of the Right
This growing abstention is the counterpart of the austerity policies that have been pursued by the traditional Right but also by the Left when it has been in power. The Left is guilty of multiple betrayals. Since the 1980s, wave after wave of reforms have imposed cuts in public spending in the name of “decentralization.” This process has become more pronounced over the last 10 years, with brutal cuts in the budget the French state allocates to local authorities.
Initiated by former president Nicolas Sarkozy under the pretext of the 2008 economic crisis, these budget reductions were expanded considerably by François Hollande.3Translator’s note: Sarkozy, of the center-right Union pour un mouvement Populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement), was the president of France from May 2007 until May 2012; he was succeeded by François Hollande of the Socialist Party, who served until 2017 and was succeeded by Emmanuel Macron, the current president. In five years the Socialist Party bled the main allocation to local authorities, a deep gash that cut it almost by half (it was 41.3 billion euros in 2012 and only 26.9 billion by 2017). In addition, it was under Hollande that the reform that reduced the number of regions in metropolitan France from 22 to 13 was carried out — to facilitate these unprecedented budget cuts.
Macronism has completed these cuts by implementing its “contractualization” policy, aimed at imposing even tighter restrictions on regional spending. Macron’s stated objective in putting regions under “contract” was for the state to “save” 13 billion euros by 2022, at the expense of public services.
This policy of budgetary austerity will only get worse (and has already started to worsen during the Covid-19 crisis) given the historical increase in France’s public debt, for which the big capitalists fully intend to make the working world and the youth pay.
These systematic betrayals of the institutional “Left” in power have fertilized the soil in which the National Front has developed as a so-called “anti-system” party, and then the National Rally of Marine Le Pen on the basis of a sort of “undemonization.”4Translator’s note: The Rassemblement national (RN, National Rally) is the new name of the Front national (FN, National Front), France’s major far-right and anti-immigrant party. The FN was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972, and today his daughter Marine Le Pen is the RN’s president. Given the current situation and how abstention could play out, RN could make a breakthrough in one or more regions. This would be a victory for the party of Marine Le Pen in these types of elections, in which she has generally not fared well.
La France Insoumise: An Institutional Strategy, and Class Conciliation as a Program
Drawing a gloomy picture of austerity helps illustrate that any policy at the regional level cannot be disentangled from the logic of austerity at the national level — all the more so because the neoliberal policies implemented by alternating Left and Right governments have led to an unprecedented collapse of public services, massive job cuts, and the destruction of the civil service statute.
From this perspective, the strategy of La France Insoumise (LFI) has the merit of clarity: not only does Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party situate its strategy solely on the institutional terrain, but it also refuses to raise any questions about the national-level austerity.5Translator’s note: La France Insoumise (LFI, Unbowed France or Unsubmissive France) is a social-democratic populist party founded in 2016 by Mélenchon, its candidate in the 2022 presidential election. This is what Clémence Guetté, who heads the LFI list in Nouvelle-Aquitaine (France’s largest administrative region, in the country’s southwest), expresses when she says, “The role of the state is not a regional issue.” Thus, LFI is content with a policy of reallocating budgets — or, in other words, administering austerity a little better, without challenging the inadequacies of the budgets granted to the regions by the state.
Employment is the other problematic aspect; it assumes a program of conciliation with big business. The “Occitanie Populaire” electoral alliance between LFI and the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA)6Translator’s note: The alliance between the LFI and the NPA is in France’s southernmost region, Occitanie. The Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anticapitalist Party) is a regroupment in which the cothinkers of Left Voice have participated, seeking to build a revolutionary workers party in France, until a recent de facto exclusion. — which we have denounced as a capitulation on the NPA’s part — states, “Zero euros of subsidies from the regions to large companies that lay off” workers. This means that LFI and the NPA are ready to pour millions of euros of public money into financing the profits of big capitalist firms such as Bolloré, Mulliez, Airbus, and so on, provided don’t “lay off” anyone.
Behind this program, the LFI seeks to sort out the “good” big bosses, those who will accept some conditions from the state, from the “bad” big bosses who would refuse. This logic is directed at an alliance with our exploiters, our class enemies.
Lutte Ouvrière: The Only List Standing on Class Independence
At a time of historic crisis, when the French state has deployed unprecedented policies in an effort to maintain its position on the international stage, billions of euros have already been poured into big business. Hundreds of billions have been used to maintain profits and “restructure” payrolls by laying off workers so they can be replaced with cheaper, more precarious ones!
In this context, the electoral lists of Lutte Ouvrière (LO)7Translator’s note: Lutte Ouvrière (LO, Workers’ Struggle) is a French Trotskyist party that traces its origins back to 1939. are the only ones with a clear claim to having a program of class independence. As LO spokesperson Nathalie Arthaud puts it, if LO candidates were elected to regional councils, they would support “all measures that favor workers and the poorest” and would oppose “the gifts to big business.” She adds, “We could be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the workers. For example, when a large company is given a subsidy by the region, the workers are supposed to be informed. But this never happens. The boss is careful not to mention that he has received so many millions.”
Arthaud herself heads the LO list in Île-de-France (the Paris region). As she puts it, LO’s ambition with these regional elections “will be to support all workers in their struggles. A program of struggle is the only program worth anything for workers. We are in a serious economic crisis, with the living conditions of workers having deteriorated considerably. They will be further attacked. Workers will have to defend themselves against layoffs and factory closures and defend their purchasing power because prices are rising. It will take struggles and social explosions.”
Thus, Révolution Permanente will support the lists led by Lutte Ouvrière in the first round of the 2021 regional elections. We do this despite whatever political disagreement we have with LO — such as over the fight against the trade union bureaucracy, the links between the interests of the working class and those of all the oppressed and their movements (the Yellow Vests movement, women’s movement, anti-racist movement, LGBT movement) — because LO presents itself as fully class-independent, as independent from the institutional and reformist Left, and stands for a program of the working class, the exploited, and the oppressed.
Against whatever populist logic LFI seeks to foster through its “program for the people,” we agree with Lutte Ouvrière that what is needed in the current situation is quite the opposite: to “make the workers’ side heard.”
First published on June 17 in French in Révolution Permanente.
Translation by Scott Cooper.
|↑1||Translator’s note: The far-right “influencer” who goes by the name “Papacito” broadcast a 20-minute staged shooting of “leftists” on his YouTube channel on June 6. The video, titled “Is leftism bulletproof?,” was not taken down for 24 hours. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a candidate for the French presidency, characterized it as a “call to murder.”|
|↑2||Translator’s note: The “Fifth Republic” is the current permutation of France’s republican system of government, established in late 1958 under a new national constitution.|
|↑3||Translator’s note: Sarkozy, of the center-right Union pour un mouvement Populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement), was the president of France from May 2007 until May 2012; he was succeeded by François Hollande of the Socialist Party, who served until 2017 and was succeeded by Emmanuel Macron, the current president.|
|↑4||Translator’s note: The Rassemblement national (RN, National Rally) is the new name of the Front national (FN, National Front), France’s major far-right and anti-immigrant party. The FN was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972, and today his daughter Marine Le Pen is the RN’s president.|
|↑5||Translator’s note: La France Insoumise (LFI, Unbowed France or Unsubmissive France) is a social-democratic populist party founded in 2016 by Mélenchon, its candidate in the 2022 presidential election.|
|↑6||Translator’s note: The alliance between the LFI and the NPA is in France’s southernmost region, Occitanie. The Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anticapitalist Party) is a regroupment in which the cothinkers of Left Voice have participated, seeking to build a revolutionary workers party in France, until a recent de facto exclusion.|
|↑7||Translator’s note: Lutte Ouvrière (LO, Workers’ Struggle) is a French Trotskyist party that traces its origins back to 1939.|